President Donald Trump vowed Wednesday to put a stop to the vandalism of monuments honoring the Confederacy and other racist structures, fretting that effigies of Jesus Christ will otherwise be next.
The source for Trump’s invocation of Jesus was unclear, but it came as anti-racist protesters across the country are tearing down statues of controversial American figures such as President Andrew Jackson, who owned slaves and brutalized Native Americans.
“I think many of the people that are knocking down the statues don’t even have any idea what the statute is, what it means, who it is when they knocked it down,” Trump said during an unrelated news conference in the White House Rose Garden with Polish President Andrzej Duda, the first foreign leader to visit Washington since the coronavirus pandemic began.
“Now they are looking at Jesus Christ, they are looking at George Washington, Thomas Jefferson … Not going to happen, not going to happen.”
Trump pledged he would sign an executive order later this week to protect U.S. monuments and harshly punish anyone who’s caught defacing them, regardless of the statue’s depiction.
“We are going to have a very strong executive order. It will happen very quickly,” Trump said without elaborating.
It’s unclear what an executive action could do in this instance, since vandalism is already a crime.
In the past few days, Trump has several times referenced the 2003 Veteran’s Memorial Preservation Act as one component he wants the order to invoke.
“I think we are going to consolidate various things,” he said.
There are no reports of people removing or demolishing figures of Jesus as part of the anti-racist protests that have erupted in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd.
However, asked for clarity on Trump’s Rose Garden remarks, a White House official pointed to a Tuesday tweet from progressive activist Shaun King, in which he suggested that a conversation needs to be had about the depiction of Jesus as a white European man, considering historical accounts describe him as a dark-skinned, Middle Eastern Jew.
Trump’s ardent defense of keeping Confederate monuments intact has inflamed already high tensions between protesters and law enforcement.
On Monday night, protesters tried to bring down a statue across the street from the White House of Jackson, who is one of Trump’s favorite presidents despite his racist history.
In a Fox News interview after the failed attempt to smash the Jackson statue, Trump claimed monuments of controversial people need to be kept in place because “we should learn from the history.”
“And if you don’t understand your history,” he said, “you will go back to it again.”